ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Cross-country skier Alexander Legkov grabbed double Olympic glory for Russia on Sunday, winning the 50 km race to ensure the host nation ended the Games at the top of the medals table.
After the second closest finish ever in an Olympic 50 km cross-country race, Legkov pulled away in the last 100 meters to take gold 0.7 seconds ahead of compatriot Maxim Vylegzhanin.
Russian team mate Ilia Chernousov took the bronze, crossing the line 0.1 seconds later.
Legkov’s win meant Russia emulated Canada’s performance at the Vancouver Games when the host nation finished on top of the overall medal standings.
“People kept asking me whether I believed Russia could do as well as Canada did in Vancouver ... and I didn’t believe it,” the 30-year-old told a news conference.
“Now this is our pride, it’s wonderful. What could be better than ending the Olympic with a gold medal and helping Russia top the medal table?”
Legkov started a breakaway with less than two kilometers to go and was pursued by Vylegzhanin and Chernousov as well as Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
The Russians said they had not planned before the race to work together.
“We all tried to win. He was faster than us,” said a wise-cracking Chernousov, who amused himself by taking photographs of reporters in the room.
It was the second consecutive tight finish to the event after Norway’s Petter Northug won by 0.3 seconds in 2010.
Dario Cologna of Switzerland, going for a third gold medal in Sochi, was well placed with 2 km to go but broke a ski and ended up in 27th place.
“I‘m disappointed, it was a big chance to get another medal,” he said.
Vylegzhanin won his third silver after picking up medals in the team sprint and relay.
Northug finish in 18th, capping a disappointing cross country competition for Norway’s men. They started as one of the overall favorites but managed only one a gold and a bronze.
The Russian clean sweep more than doubled their medal tally on the cross-country track. Until Sunday they had won just two silvers in team events.
Earlier in the race Anders Soedergren of Sweden and then Matti Heikkinen on Finland had taken the lead but were both quickly caught by the pack in the warm sunshine.
“Legkov proved he is the king of skis for at least four years,” said Russian coach Elena Vyalbe, while also expressing disappointment about the overall performance of the team.
“We didn’t manage to fulfill our medal plan. In sprints we should have had completely different results,” she said.
Russia won a silver in the men’s team classic sprint, the women nothing in either team or individual sprint.
Editing by Peter Rutherford